Reading towards an anti-racist world

Today, our blog is handed over to Roshni who works in the Library Resource Management Team.

“I’m a Library Adviser for Edinburgh Libraries as well as a poet and a writer. I’m also a Woman of Colour and a member of an Edinburgh-based Women of Colour (WOC) Reading group. This past week there has been an increase in the discussion over how to combat racism in our communities. This comes in response to a history of anti-Black racism and racial injustice – most recently the murder of George Floyd in the US and the race hate attack on Belly Mujinga in the UK. Working in a library, I know that books are a great tool to educate and affect positive change in the world. Under lockdown I have found myself with more time to read and I have been making use of Edinburgh Libraries’ digital collection. I have had several people get in touch with me asking for book recommendations – so I have compiled a short list of anti-racist non-fiction and fiction books which I have personally enjoyed and found informative. All of these are available via the library and most are also currently available as an ebook or audiobook.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison writes beautifully and powerfully about the Black experience. Every sentence that Morrison writes is precise and packed with meaning. This book is a coming-of-age story following Macon Dead jr, AKA Milkman, who is the son of a wealthy Black family in 1930s America. In this novel Morrison deals with the themes of pain, escape, and forgiveness. It is a story about masculinity, family, and patriarchy. All of Toni Morrison’s books are worth reading – and this is one of her best.
Available as an audiobook

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Sukla
This is a collection of personal essays by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the UK. This is a good way to read about the racism that lurks in our homes and in our communities. In this collection there are moments of comedy, moments of grief, and moments of anger. All the essays in this collection are very moving. For example, the teacher and writer Darren Chetty discusses how his primary school aged students believed that the main characters in story books had to be white.
Available as an audiobook

Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This book addresses racism in Britain today and the reluctance of white people to discuss it. It’s a good starting point if you’re striving to learn more about racism at a systemic level. This book is primarily aimed at white readers and the title refers to Eddo-Lodge’s fatigue at having to continually explain racism. In the introduction she states that when she talks about race to white people, ‘You can see their eyes shut down and harden… It’s like they can no longer hear us’. This book has won the Jhalak prize and has received international acclaim.
(Available as an ebook and as an audiobook)

Surge by Jay Bernard
This is a collection of poetry that was written with the Grenfell tragedy at the heart of it. Bernard melds Britain’s past with its present, expressing what it means to be Black and British in the modern day. ‘Surge’ won the Ted Hughes award for new poetry.



Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
This is an essential collection of essays and speeches and includes her famous essay  ‘The  Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House.’ Lorde writes about the intersection between race, gender, and sexuality. Her collection ‘Your Silence Will Not Protect You’ is also available at branches in paperback. I found this collection formative in my personal understanding of racism – Lorde writes about the necessity to speak out against racism in all forms at all times.
Available as an ebook

How to be an antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
This is a highly informative read. Kendi dissects each way in which a person can be consciously and subconsciously racist. Kendi argues that no one can be neutral when it comes to racism – we can only ever be either anti-racist or racist. Kendi invites us to interrogate our own unconscious racial biases. Kendi also discusses quick changes we can make to the language we use to discuss racism. For example, he suggests using the more apt ‘racial abuse’ instead of ‘microaggression’.”

What books are staff reading to help them through the lockdown?

We asked staff at Central Library to tell us a bit about the books they’ve been reading that have helped them through lockdown.

It turns out we’ve got a bit of a Marian Keyes fan club with a number of us reading her books that so engagingly tackle complex and difficult subjects with humour. Depression, alcoholism, bulimia, being broke, being unlucky in love … you name it … why are we reading about all these topics just now?

Fiona who’s been reading The Mystery of Mercy Close says `the reason it helps is basically because of the humour in it even though the main character suffers from depression’. Lesley is just starting on The Break, Joanna is reading Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married and Bronwen’s reading Grown Ups and says `I can be in someone else’s life while I’m reading; I love the characters and even though the book portrays real personal suffering, I’m laughing out loud one minute and crying the next’.  So thank you Marian Keyes – your writing is clearly helping us pull through. All of the Marian Keyes books noted are available from Edinburgh City Libraries’ RBdigital audiobook service.

Some books we read help us put our troubles in perspective. Doris’ last two are American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara.

Doris says “Both reminded me that as challenging as things are with lockdown –  the situation could be so much worse! Djinn Patrol deals with poverty and the slums in India and is heartbreaking yet is told with a deft sense of humour by the main character Jai. I loved the first 100 pages of American Dirt but must admit, I found it a bit implausible, as misery upon misery was heaped on the protagonists as the book progressed.”

Sometimes we want to read old favourites. Joanna has gone back to re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld stories. She says they are a “total escape from everyday problems and a lot of fun”. Discworld is a parallel time and place which might sound and smell like our own but looks completely different. Start with The Colour of Magic.

Historical stories set in difficult times can provide a sense of perspective on today. After reading a magazine article about the history of Agony Aunt columns, Clare found a suggested read, Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce on Overdrive. “Set during the London Blitz, it doesn’t avoid the hardships and destruction experienced on the home front, yet manages to be light-hearted and optimistic in tone. The  characters have setbacks but refuse to be beaten by events. Every day routine, worries, friendships and romances carry on. It was the perfect, easy, uplifting book I needed right now.”

A bit of time can also see you getting round to a book you’ve thought about reading. Jeanette says:
“During lockdown, I read a book I’ve meant to get to for ages, which is This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay. I might be the one of the few people in the country to not to have read this book since it was written in 2017 to great acclaim. It’s a collection of Kay’s secret diary entries which he wrote whilst working as a junior doctor. As a woman of a certain age, experiencing hot flushes and insomnia, I started to read it at 3am one dark morning, hoping it would help me drift back to sleep. I could not have been more wrong. It is both hilarious and shocking from the offset, filled with the author’s experiences of working on the front line of the NHS. By the time I had reached page 22, an account involving objects stuck in orifices, the book had to be put down as I was unable to stifle the laughter any longer and was in danger of waking my sleeping partner up!

This is not a book for the faint hearted or easily offended: strong language is used throughout, there are details of gruesome injuries that made me cringe, truly heartbreaking stories about births and deaths, and “a constant tsunami of bodily fluids” throughout. That said, it is an important book for all of us and especially now, as it is an eye opener, and insight into our essential yet underfunded and overstretched NHS.

After the first 22 pages, I took the book downstairs where it became my day time read. I could laugh out loud all I wanted to it, and also shed a tear as it is genuinely devastating in parts. I’ve finished the book now, but have gone back to it and from time to time read the funny bits to my partner and son which always raises a laugh. I have come to ‘This Is Going to Hurt’ late but I’m glad I did because it’s been a fantastic and uplifting addition to my time in lockdown.”
This is going to hurt is available to borrow as an audiobook and ebook.

Tell us what you’ve been reading in lockdown and how it’s helped.


Enjoy music concerts online

With concert halls and opera houses closed many orchestras are now entertaining us with streaming channels. The staff of the Music Library have put together some suggestions for listening at home.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra launched their Friday Night Club on the 27 March and are making concerts free to view. Join RSNO at 7.30pm on Friday nights. You can also watch an earlier performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 Eroica recorded in February 2020.

Love opera? Join the Polish National Opera where you can watch performances for free, live and on demand.  The Met Opera are making available nightly opera streams to suit all tastes: watch Rossini’s Barber of Seville or Bellini’s Norma. The Royal Opera House in London have put together classic clips from their Covent Garden home for watching remotely.

For more of a range of musical styles one of our latest favourite sites is Arte Concert – lots of music, concerts and art-related documentaries with a bonus that you can navigate the site in different languages.

This is an ever-updating list of times that various musicians and artists are performing livestreams over various platforms collated by NPR Music.

Classic FM have collated an amazing range of orchestras from across the globe streaming music to keep us entertained: this list is being regularly updated.

If you want to play music, Jess Gillam has started a Virtual Scratch Orchestra for all instruments and abilities. A great way for people to keep playing in a community at a time we physically can’t be there.

Singer and pianist Myleene Klass is giving music lessons from home Myleene’s Music Klass and you don’t need instruments! Myleene with the aid of her daughters is teaching us basic rhythms, teaching the difference between major and minor, and learning about dynamics. Great for all ages!

And don’t forget, your library card gives you access to Naxos Music Library and Naxos Jazz to stream or download classical and jazz music. No visuals but good for creating your own playlists.

Keep listening. Keep playing. Music has the power to lift our spirits through difficult times.

Read another blog post giving staff recommendations for watching and taking part in dance online – Are ye’ dancing?

Comfort reads, while we’re away

This blog post is written by Hope who works in our Central Lending Library.

“I miss the library. I miss asking you whether you liked your book when you bring it back and being told it was great. I miss the people who tell me it was a load of rubbish. I miss seeing you pick up that reservation you’ve been waiting weeks for. I miss the ordinariness, the comforting familiarity of life as we knew it, before this.

In The Cazalet Chronicles, Polly – one of three girl cousins – describes the Second World War as boring and frightening at once. I struggled to get my head round this. If you are frightened, how can you be bored, I thought.

I get it now.

Yet even when we’re closed, there are still books, and while it’s always exciting to encounter a new voice, a new author, but during the worst times in my own life, I find myself reaching for well-thumbed old Penguins which I have read several times before, the stories which are old friends, familiar – when nothing else is, books which will hold your hand, and get you through.

Everyone has their own, the stories which you can escape into, knowing they will provide comfort, while not remembering every little detail, so you still find things to surprise you – doorways and alleys you didn’t see when first you visited the book.

For me, these are my comfort reads. The books I choose to get lost in, time and again.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Mortmaim family live in a beautiful old castle, which is falling down around them. Told in diary form by fifteen year old Cassandra, the novel is at once cosy and whimsical. A love story and a coming of age novel, with hints of the Jane Austen novels, which Cassandra and her sister Rose are so obsessed with, only truer somehow.

Written during World War Two, when Dodie Smith was living in America, it is a nostalgic book, a glimpse back at an idealised time, but not too idealised. The Mortmains have no money, and have experienced their share of loss, and the girls make terrible mistakes in their tentative, enthusiastic forays into love.

I came late to I Capture the Castle, after hearing it cited for years as a comfort read. Now, I feel unable to keep away. The world of Cassandra and Rose, and their ramshackle castle with the moat, is endlessly compelling, funny, sad, and true to how girls feel on the brink of growing up. 

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Recently I saw a post on Twitter suggesting that Black Swan Green should replace Catcher in the Rye, as the coming of age novel. While lots of people love Catcher, I found it didn’t speak to me, while I found Black Swan Green – the story of a thirteen year old with a stammer, growing up in a normal, but possibly haunted, English backwater – immensely compelling and true to the things we all think and feel when we’re kids. The story has a ghost, a bully, a dangerous older cousin, and a fascinating old lady who once knew a young composer who wrote an opus called Cloud Atlas.

David Mitchell fans will know how his novels overlap, tantalising readers who know what happens in earlier and later novels. 

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Linda Radlett, is young, giddy, and obsessed by the idea of love. Narrated by her cousin, Fanny, daughter of ‘The Bolter,’ this novel is a biting satire of a world of debutantes and aristocrats, but also a tender, sweet portrait of a girl lost in the midst on the twentieth century. Travelling through the Spanish Civil War, Occupied France and a long-gone England, this book is beautifully romantic, terribly sad and weirdly comforting.

I first read this aged twelve, and didn’t understand a lot of it. Revisiting it in my late teens, and then in my thirties, I realised how I love this novel, and the catty wonderful author who wrote it, herself one of six girls whose lives were all touched by the events of the twentieth century, some more tragically than others.
This title is available as an ebook and audiobook

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
When my Dad first read me this, I cowered under the covers, terrified by the chained convict who jumps out at Pip in the lonely graveyard. As an adult I know that there were far worse monsters in the book than the convict Magwitch.

This novel contains the fabled Miss Havisham, and her ward Estella, shut away in the cobwebby Satis House. It’s a book which will break your heart – especially when Pip turns his back on Old Joe, who bought him up (this scene always gets me) – but it’s also an excellent gothic adventure through late Georgian and early Victorian London.

Published in 1861, during the age of industrialisation and scientific progress, the novel looks back on the early 1800s, a time of superstition, ghosts glimpsed through the mists of the fens, convict ships with loud fog horns, and that sense of life and adventure which comes from being on the brink of something about to happen.
This title is available as an ebook and audiobook.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
It might seem weird to recommend a novel about a plague, and call it a comfort read, especially now, but Station Eleven in which 99.9% of us die of flu, is weirdly hopeful. While Mandel doesn’t shy away from darkness and horror, the cutting between before and after the pandemic is incredible in the way it introduces us to characters, making us love them, hate them, root for them, curse at them, and hope they make it from the before into the after.

Twenty years after the plague a theatre group and orchestra tour the wastes of Canada in a caravan pulled by horses. Their slogan, taken from Star Trek is ‘Survival is Insufficient.’ On the way, they encounter a sinister prophet, and his cult.

It’s a book about what survives, and how art, and love and music matter, perhaps more so, even when everything is bleak. It’s catty, and clever and kind, and offers an excellent take down of people who say ‘Everything Happens for a Reason,’ showing the full poison of this point of view.”
This title is available as an ebook and audiobook.

Thank you Hope.


Desert Island Discs – Eamonn from the Digital Team

The latest library staff member to be banished to our desert island is Eamonn from the Digital Team.

We hand over to Eamonn to explain his choices –

1 Vol.4., Ethio jazz & Musique Instrumentale 1969-1974

I feel that nothing sounds quite like Ethiopian music. I suppose like many people, I became familiar with the country’s music through the fabled 30 volume CD series called Ethiopiques which focuses on a “golden” period of music in Ethiopia’s cultural history.

The series highlights the time between the mid 1950s and 1974 where a huge wave of outstanding big bands and singers had emerged – sparking off a massive musical explosion, resulting in the production of hundreds of recordings. This was all brought to an end in 1974 during a revolution, which left the country in the hands of a military dictatorship that remained in power until 1991. With rigorous censorship and strict curfews, many musicians were imprisoned, forced to stop playing or escaped into exile.

I love the series – the attention to detail, from programming to design, to notes, to mastering – have defined this body of work which has become virtually the sole representation of an essential musical culture.

Many volumes are worthy of a Desert Island Disc or two but perhaps the best entry point is Vol. 4 – showcasing the man who invented ‘Ethio-jazz’, Mulatu Astatke and devoted to his blend of Abyssinian swing.

2 Life on Earth: Music from the 1979 BBC TV series / composed by Edward Williams

Life on Earth was a landmark television natural history series produced by the BBC and Sir David Attenborough which aired in the UK in January 1979. Surprisingly, for such an influential series, its soundtrack was privately pressed – only 100 copies were ever made and distributed by composer Edward Williams to members of his orchestra. Scarce copies languished in thrift shops for three decades before finally being resurrected (with Sir Dave’s blessing) in 2009.

What surprised me further still was how beautiful the music was – a Desert Island Disc session would not be complete without staring into the sea surrounded by the magical, ambient sounds of science, nature and music for jellyfish.

3 Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble

Phil Cohran was my favourite jazz composer – his ensembles contained one of the most idiosyncratic takes on 60s avant jazz this side of Sun Ra (Cohran was once an early member of Ra’s arcane troupe). He wasn’t just a musician but an inventor of musical instruments – from customised violin-ukes to his most famous creation, his Frankiphone – an amplified thumb piano which rattled spookily around his ragged rhythm tracks. I’d hope with time that I would develop the patience and ingenuity to fashion my own desert island instrument – or at the very least I could always find a shell that made an interesting noise when blown into!

Book: Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec

I think this book would keep me occupied on the island – Perec’s output is extremely varied in form and style: sometimes bewilderingly so. From crossword puzzles and poetry to palindromes, autobiography and straight narrative – he did the lot and made a rule to never write the same thing twice. In his novel Void, he systematically avoids the letter ‘e’, for an entire novel! He did balance things out though – writing a short story after Void where the only vowel used was ‘e’ (easy peasy lemon squeezy… ok, so it’s harder than it sounds!).

Life maps the interconnecting lives of the residents of a fictitious apartment block in Paris with an unfolding structure that follows the logic of chess moves.

It was written according to a complicated writing plan (thankfully with ‘e’s included this time) and its 99 chapters can be read in any order. Guided by a 70-page index, a chronology, a checklist of 100 or more main stories, an apartment block elevation plan as a 10×10 grid of the building in which the action takes place and a profound interest in jigsaws. This book is the literary equivalent of a sudoku puzzle – one that you will keep returning to and worthy of being stranded with.

Luxury item: Tin of Vaseline (Aloe Vera) – no sense in having chapped lips in the sun!

Desert Island Discs – Eleonora from Central Lending Library

Eleonora has been with the library for a few years now, working in the busy Lending department. She is also part of the imaginative team who run our Childrens’ Art Club. The thriving art club runs every second Wednesday and program a wide and varied selection of arts activities for their members.

We unfortunately had a to and fro of emails, as we were unable to provide Eleonora’s original choice of Music, so today we have no Metallica, listened to so much the cassettes were destroyed or, Faith No More which reminded Eleonora of studying for her art degree in Bologna.

Desert Island Discs

John Grant  –  Pale Green Ghosts
Eleonora says:

“amazing album I used listened all the time when I moved in Scotland, is perfect for any kind of mood”

Eleonora would like “anything by Ella Fitzgerald” so we suggest Ella Fitzgerald   –  At The Opera House 

and she also asked for anything by Creedance Clearwater Revival, so we offer The Best of Creedence Clearwater Revival

Book(s): The Name of the Rose and American Psycho …as we had a bit of difficulty fulfilling Eleonora’s music choices we have allowed both of her requests…

Eleonora said,

“I would like if I can chose two books, they are very important for me”

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco I just love the book and the movie as well, I got this book in my father’s “personal library” at home, when I started to read, I did not stop for hours. It reminds me my father and my house in south Italy.


American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – it was one of the books for my art degree. This book just drove me nuts, if I can say so. Brilliant book.


Luxury item: One of my father pipes, because sometimes I like to sit and smoke next to the window, look outside and get lost in my thoughts. 

Some of our favourite books of 2019 (continued)

We asked colleagues to share with us the book they’d most enjoyed this past year.

Jen from the Art and Design Library chose Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator by Alan Powers.

“I was asked what library book I’ve enjoyed most this year and could I write about it, just a paragraph. To begin with this stumped me. It’s a tricky question – with a superlative in it too (what about all those other books?)… and then I thought of Alan Powers’ Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator. Sometimes, some things, just really are good.

It’s a large book, from the Art & Design Library.

Little Tim’s on the cover looking out to sea (at something, what is it? Not the ship). The book wouldn’t even need to be well written for me to be excited about it. There wouldn’t need to be many pictures, even one picture would do, even if it was in black and white (Ardizzone really could handle a pen, and that irksome material, black ink). But, of course, it isn’t. There are lots of pictures, lots in colour, and there are little gems throughout: unknown early commissions, men in pubs, things happening in streets, in parks. Always there’s a lightness – his pen is so loose and free, and just in the right place – and there it is, the moment is perfectly caught.

Edward Ardizzone (1900 – 1979), was an artist and illustrator, a biggie in 20th century illustration. The first of his Little Tim books was published in 1936; he also illustrated many contemporary writers (Eleanor Farjeon, Robert Graves). He drew illustrations for Walter de la Mare’s Peacock Pie, for magazines and advertising, and for the classics – to illustrate Dickens, Bunyan, Cervantes.

The book was published in 2016 alongside a retrospective exhibition held by the House of Illustration in London. It covers Ardizzone’s biographical story (he was also a war artist – have a look at the library catalogue for his war diaries…), mid-century illustration and illustration practice (book production, printing). And about illustration itself, Ardizzone is fascinating, and assertive. He particularly prized visual memory, and the art of making it all up. Illustration is about an imaginary world for Ardizzone. An illustrator,

‘creates a visual world, which looks real and which can be believed in. Yet it is not the real world but, like the author’s, a fiction.’
(p.179, quoting Ardizzone, The Born Illustrator, p.37).

This is a book for picture lovers, and book lovers. I thoroughly recommend it.”

Maybe 2020 could be the year to discover or revisit the treasure trove and book lover’s haven that is the Art and Design Library? Tucked away in a top corner of Central Library, you’ll find a feast of books, old and new on every aspect of art, craft and design to inspire and captivate.

Read more staff reading recommendations from 2019.

Some of our favourite books of 2019

Ever wondered what library staff choose to read? We asked some of our colleagues to recommend a book they’d particularly enjoyed reading this past year. Here’s what they said:

Carol at Stockbridge Library recommends The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood.
“I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood, both her books and her politics. This novel has a humour to it although very dark in parts as it relates to this dystopian society, where the main characters Charmaine and Stan start off by living their lives in a car. Desperate to have a better live they embark on a ‘social experiment’ which splits their lives between suburban living one month, swopping it with a prison cell the next. All is not as it seems as both characters stray in their relationship with their alternative others. This is where things start to unfold in a very sinister way. And by the way Elvis makes an appearance, but not as you know him! This book was great fun to read and difficult to put down.”
Available as an ebook

Susan in the Digital Team tells us about The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel.
“It’s fair to say I wasn’t really looking forward to reading “The Stranger in the Woods” by Michael Finkel when it was chosen by my book group. I couldn’t see me enjoying a book about a man who spent almost 30 years of his life with no human interaction hiding out in the woods of Maine – the thought seemed horrifying.  That’s the good thing about book groups though, they throw books and ideas at you that you’d never think of reading and you discover gems like this. Christopher Knight was just 20 years old when he walked into the woods and created a home for himself hidden from the world, whilst living just minutes from other people.  Food and supplies were scavenged and stolen from the rural community around him without anyone ever seeing him, leading him to become known as the North Pond Hermit.  His story is unlike anything you have read and challenges all sorts of beliefs you might have had, bringing up more questions than answers really. Like why did Knight choose the life of a hermit and could you do the same? Why do we feel its wrong to live like this and was it right to try to make him conform to society’s values?  Would you steal to survive and did his thievery make Knight a bad person?  Want a short, fascinating non-fiction read – then this is the one for you.
Available as an ebook

Douglas from the Music Library recommends Sleeping Giants, (The Themis Files) by Sylvain Neuvel.
“I was in a well-known bookshop one day, browsing titles, when my daughter picked up a copy of Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. She was at that point almost set upon by a staff member who began to tell how good this book was and so on and so forth.  This kind of intrusion by staff in any shop is unwanted and unwelcome, so she put the book down and we made to move away. At that moment, an older gentleman leaned over the book table and said quietly, it really is a very good read and not at all how it was just described to you, completely different from anything he had read before, and a page turner.
All of which I have to agree with wholeheartedly, I am not a Sci-Fi reader but this has many more elements than just Sci-Fi. It is very readable, it moves with pace and is over all too quickly.
Sleeping Giants is the first part of a trilogy, the Themis files which I would also recommend.”

Clare in the Digital Team really liked The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.
“I loved The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. It’s a book unlike any I’ve ever read before. It was like being stuck in a sinister video game set in a stately home who-dunnit story. The narration changes every day as the protagonist slips into a different character in a race against time to solve the crime before he’s destined to start the story loop all over again – never knowing who he can trust, including himself.
It was complicated and clever and confusing but well worth the effort. I read this book back in January but it’s by far the most memorable book I read all year.”
Available as an ebook

Bronwen from the Art and Design and Music Libraries recommends two books. Her favourite fiction book of 2019 is Georgina Harding’s Land of the Living.
“Set in Norfolk and Nagaland in North East India, the narratives centres around Charlie, a young British Officer recently returned from service in India and Burma during the Second World War as he tries to reconnect with his childhood landscape of Norfolk, settling back into home and married life working a farm. Switching between the internal dialogue of Charlie’s memories and day to day conversations with his wife in Norfolk we learn more of Charlie’s harrowing experiences during the war and his time spent living with the Naga tribe. Charlie can’t bring himself to tell his young wife all he has experienced and this disparity between his experiences and what he reveals to even those close to him creates a powerful drama in the book. I found the book particularly interesting as I’d never heard of the Naga tribe and the book goes into quite some detail about their way of living and customs which I followed up with my own research. There’s also a dog in the story who lives on the farm with Charlie and his wife in Norfolk who to me seemed to symbolise home and family but when I asked the author this at a book festival signing she said, no, it’s just a dog, dogs are part of farm life.”

Bronwen’s favourite non-fiction book of 2019 is Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail.
“Based on Day’s series of podcasts in which interviewees explore what their failures have taught them, the book is divided into themes we can all relate to, such as family, work, relationships. It’s a powerfully honest book and Day reveals much of her own emotional and other personal struggles, but at the same time I found the book funny and uplifting. This is a book everyone can relate to – we’ve all failed at things at various times in our lives and we’re probably all still failing, and sometimes we learn to do things better the next time and sometimes not. The book made me want to write my own chapter on how to fail at being a library manager…”
Available as an ebook

Nicola from Kirkliston and South Queensferry Libraries picks Me by Elton John as her highlight of the year.
“This official autobiography by the Rocket Man (Elton John) did not disappoint. His early childhood and influence of his mother, whom he had a strained relationship with due to her moods and volatility, were contrasted to the nurturing role taken on by is grandmother. The absence of encouragement to be himself, and a burning ambition and desire to carve his own path lead to him undertaking to study at the Royal Academy of Music ultimately throwing out convention and turning to rock and roll.
There are so many times in his life where he reflects on the turning points which defined his career, often brought about by chance or twists of fate – the most career defining being his being given the contact for Bernie Taupin – his long standing lyricist and song writing partner.
There are so many anecdotes, which reveal an honesty and openness about a not perfect, but a life which has been lived to the fullest. I loved the anecdote about Sylvester Stalone, Richard Gere and Princess Diana coming to his home for a dinner party.
A page turning read, which had me hooked in its openness – a real roller coaster ride if ever there was one – fasten your seat belts!! 😉”

Janette from the Digital Team chooses The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay

A twenty – nine year old man lives alone in his Glasgow flat. The telephone rings, a casual conversation, but behind this a job offer. The clues are there if you know where to find them.

“Meet Calum Maclean, a free lance hit man for the Glasgow underworld, who is hired to bring about the demise of small-time drug dealer Lewis Winter.
It’s an easy job, in and out. It’s what happens next that creates problems. Calum finds himself embroiled in a turf war between an up and coming crime boss Shug Francis and the man who’s hired him, Jamieson, the long-standing boss in that part of town. Winter was one of Francis’s men and Jamieson put the hit out to send a message to Francis, who shall we say is none too pleased. He may have to do something, like go after Calum.
Written entirely in the present tense, it could well be described as a criminal procedural book. The chapters are short, and I found myself saying ‘just one more chapter’ before long half the book had been read……one more chapter?
This is the first book in what has become a trilogy, the next two are on my list to read over the holidays.”

Nikki from South Queensferry Library recommends To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf is one of those authors I’ve always meant to dip into, but I picked this book up on a bit of a whim. The book is centred around the Ramsay family and their holiday home on the Isle of Skye. Knowing very little about her style of writing and nothing at all about the plot of the book helped me enjoy both the characters and story for what they are. There’s dense poetic description in places, but rather than putting me off it made me want to slow my pace and take in as much as possible. Time is distorted in the story and changing character perspectives on top of this can make it a little hard to follow at times, but Woolf’s focus on the everyday tensions of family life and the affects of grief are very moving. I really enjoyed To the Lighthouse, and I think it’s a book I could come back to again and again and still find a new layer to the story.

Cecylia from Edinburgh and Scottish Collection recommends Things that Fall from the Sky by Selja Ahava.

“Things that Fall from the Sky was one of this year’s reads in our Found in Translation book group. We read it alongside the Finnish book group at our sister library, Iisalmi  and exchanged our thoughts on the book. I found it wonderfully weird and enchanting, also tragic and humorous at the same time. It’s a story or a fairy tale of three characters whose lives are changed forever by random events. A mother dies when hit by a block of ice which falls from the sky. A woman wins the lottery twice and a man is struck by the lightning four times. How they cope with the unexpected events? How they try to explain them? How they love and grieve?
Most highly recommended.”

What have you been reading this year?
Fancy joining a book group in 2020? Get in touch with your local library to find out how you can join their group or drop into the Central Library BookCafe

Read another about another great book recommendation from our Art and Design Library. 


Desert Island Discs – Iain from Edinburgh and Scottish and Reference collections

Iain Duffus is our newest member of staff joining us recently to head up the Reference Libary and Edinburgh and Scottish Collection. Starting a new job can be exhilarating, daunting, exhausting and more, there are many pressures on Iain’s time, but he found a spare moment to give us his Desert Island choices.

Music For Eighteen Musicians by Steve Reich 
The first disc I will take to the island is by Steve Reich. Reich’s works were a real gateway for me into the realisation that orchestral music has a modern and interesting direction. I have chosen Music for Eighteen Musicians as it has so many strands and seems infinite in its detail. Even after repeated listens of this record, each time reveals something different. It is hypnotising, welcoming and at the same time intriguing and bursting with energy. Perfect for losing yourself in and (trying) to forget about space and time.

Brief History: The best of the Penguin Café Orchestra
This music reminds me of doing two things; one is studying late at night trying to cram as much as possible in before a test. I thought the calming music would help, but it often turned out to just be a distraction because it is so beautiful. The other is cooking breakfast on a Sunday morning. Penguin Café was often the soundtrack, the Penguins were consistently good – my recipe attempts were not! This is the best of CD but I would happily just take their first album Music From The Penguin Café also.

Selected Ambient Works Vol II by Aphex Twin
I actually wanted to choose the first volume ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92’ as that has many of my favourite tracks on there. However, it’s probably just as well I couldn’t find it because I did it to death when I was a teenager. So Volume II is coming to the island with me instead. Aphex’s early material has really stood the test of time. It still feels unique, strange and other worldly whilst not forgetting the conventions of pop and dance music that his later material did.

My luxury item would have to be suntan lotion or a pair of reading glasses.


Desert Island Discs – Jen from the Art and Design Library

The latest library castaway is Jen from the Art and Design Library. As usual, she was asked to choose three songs, one book and a luxury to see her through her isolation on her desert island.

“Only three! I’m terrible with decisions, a chewer and a worrier, so I’m hoping there will be plenty of tropical storms I can listen to under my tent, and tropical birds flitting colourfully about with other-worldly songs on their beak-tips – because I know I’m going to want to change my mind…

But my three songs –
Although I’m a child of the 80s, I’m also late to (and for) most things, sadly, but when I came to Edinburgh to study I was finally introduced to the film Labyrinth – and being a lover of puppets and children’s fantasy, I’d like to choose David Bowie’s Magic Dance. I’ve picked it at parties and tried to dance to it with special people – I still struggle, but it seems to have found its place somehow.

I was thinking too, that I’d like to pick something big and ballady to wallow in. I am a wallower. I also try and do a lot of drawing and painting, and often find myself playing beautiful voices again and again (and if no-one else is listening too, again), so in the last few years a lot of Feist, Cat Power, Ane Brun – but for strength and depth, and sheer deliberate determination to fight and live, I think I’d like some Nina Simone. She might help, stuck out there in the middle of the sea. I’d like something to remind me to pull myself together, but something very wallowy too, so her version of Little Girl Blue.

And a third? Although I’ve long stopped playing, and was always more a bundle of nerves and enthusiastic emotion than in any way tuneful, I did for a large part of my childhood play the violin and cello. I thought about some Bartók – or biggies that have always stuck, Bach’s Double Violin Concerto maybe. Then there are the pieces my young self was immediately drawn to, anything with animals and a lot of visuals in them (not that anything much has changed there) – Carnival of the Animals perhaps and my attempts to glide like a swan… but actually overall, I think I’d like to have Bach’s cello suites.

And then I feel I should mention what I’ve missed in these three choices – apart from everything else, of course… There’s not much of my teenage self and grungy-ness, there’s little wit (something I lack but like to listen to!) and big noise, and it would be nice to have something to dance to hour after hour if I could pull myself out of my bluesiness; some whimsy too, something ghoulish and cartoony (some Cab Calloway serenading Betty Boop?) – and something nostalgic just to remind me that everything really is ok (Django Reinhardt, The Ink Spots? I used to work in a bar where The Ink Spots were really the only thing that was ever played…)

My book
The Moomin books?
All of them? – the first editions with Tove Jansson’s amazing illustrations. I’d be set then for island adventuring. And because I can’t decide, perhaps an anthology of Emily Dickinson too, for a glimpse at the deepest and the best of everything.

For my luxury
I was wondering if we were allowed other creatures… pets? I never used to think I was so soft on dogs, I always imagined myself a bit too aloof, but my partner’s mum has a guide dog (she’s very tiny, and he’s very big and fluffy and aptly called Dave). I’d love to have him with me, but I’d also worry about him getting too hot in all that fur, and Fiona without him bumping into things.

So perhaps instead I’d choose a lot of pencils (a magic never-ending pencil) and a never-ending sketchbook, with the hope that I could idle away a lot of hours and try and enchant myself – and forget about missing absolutely everybody.”

Read other articles in this Desert Island Disc series:
Douglas from the Music Library